Verse > John Dryden > Poems
John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
Prologues and Epilogues
Prologue and Epilogue to Œdipus
WHEN 1 Athens all the Græcian State 2 did guide,
And Greece gave Laws to all the World beside;
Then Sophocles with Socrates did sit,
Supreme in Wisdom one, and one in Wit:
And Wit from Wisdom differ’d not in those,        5
But as ’twas Sung in Verse or said in Prose.
Then Œdipus, on crowded Theaters
Drew all admiring Eyes and listning Ears:
The pleas’d Spectator shouted every Line,
The noblest, manliest, and the best Design!        10
And every Critick of each learned Age
By this just Model has reform’d the Stage.
Now, should it fail, (as Heav’n avert our fear!)
Damn it in silence, lest the World should hear.
For were it known this Poem did not please,        15
You might set up for perfect Salvages:
Your Neighbours would not look on you as men:
But think the Nation all turned Picts agen.
Faith, as you manage matters, ’tis not fit
You should suspect your selves of too much Wit.        20
Drive not the jeast too far, but spare this piece;
And for this once be not more Wise than Greece.
See twice! Do not pell-mell to Damning fall,
Like true-born Brittains, who ne’re think at all:
Pray be advis’d; and though at Mons you won,        25
On pointed Cannon do not always run.
With some Respect to antient Wit proceed,
And take the four first 3 Councils for your Creed.
But, when you lay Tradition wholly by,
And on the private Spirit alone relye,        30
You turn Fanaticks in your Poetry.
If, notwithstanding all that we can say,
You needs will have your pen’worths of the Play,
And come resolv’d to Damn, because you pay,
Record it, in memorial of the Fact,        35
The first Play bury’d since the Wollen Act.
WHAT Sophocles could undertake alone,
Our Poets found a Work for more than one;
And therefore Two lay tugging at the piece,
With all their force, to draw the pondrous Mass from Greece;        40
A weight that bent ev’n Seneca’s strong Muse,
And which Corneille’s Shoulders did refuse:
So hard it is th’ Athenian Harp to string!
So much two Consuls yield to one just King.
Terrour and Pity 4 this whole Poem sway;        45
The mightiest Machines that can mount 5 a Play;
How heavy will those Vulgar Souls be found,
Whom two such Engines cannot move from Ground!
When Greece and Rome have smil’d upon this Birth,
You can but damn for one poor spot of Earth;        50
And when your Children find your judgment such,
They’ll scorn their Sires, and wish themselves born Dutch;
Each haughty Poet will infer with ease,
How much his Wit must under-write to please.
As some strong Churle would brandishing advance        55
The monumental Sword that conquer’d France,
So you by judging this your judgments teach,
Thus far you like, that is, thus far you reach.
Since then the Vote of full two Thousand years
Has Crown’d this Plot, and all the Dead are theirs,        60
Think it a Debt you pay, not Alms you give,
And in your own defence let this Play live.
Think ’em not vain, when Sophocles is shown,
To praise his worth, they humbly doubt their own.
Yet as weak States each other’s pow’r assure,        65
Weak Poets by Conjunction are secure.
Their Treat is what your Pallats rellish most,
Charm! Song! and Show! a Murder and a Ghost!
We know not what you can desire or hope,
To please you more, but burning of a Pope.        70
Note 1. 1678. Published in 1679. [back]
Note 2. State] Edd. give states. [back]
Note 3. four first] Christie and others wrongly give first four. [back]
Note 4. Pity] pity 1678. [back]
Note 5. mount] Christie wrongly gives move. [back]

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